Friday, 27 June 2008

Slovenia: So long, farewell...

Slovenia's six month presidency of the EU comes to an end today. Certainly there is a general perception here in Brussels that Slovenia's leadership of the EU, despite the ongoing difficulties with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, has shown once again that a ‘small’ country can successfully take on the EU Presidency and manage it just as effectively – if not more so – than, say, Germany, France or the UK.

By chance I stumbled across a report in today's Deutsche Welle with the headline - "Slovenia's strong EU Presidency sets the stage for small countries".

It's hard to believe that its less than 17 years since Slovenia achieved its independence and now, a full EU member state, Slovenia is handing over the EU presidency baton to France.

As the first of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 to host the rotating EU Presidency, there is recognition of the need to "put an end to the artificial distinction between the ‘new Member States’ and the former ones" as stated by the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner at the end of last week, before he went on to congratulate Slovenia on the success with which it had managed the EU Presidency.

As one of its last Presidency tasks, this week the Slovenian Presidency was at the Parliament where Slovenian Ministers appeared before each of the Parliament's Committees to outline what they had achieved in their respective portfolios. Although this happens at the end of every presidency, just ahead of the next lot arriving to outline their plans for the next six months, it is a useful stock-taking exercise and one that sets out the sometimes surprising number of achievements recorded by the out-going presidency. Or not, as the case might be!

This week
Janez Jansa, Slovenia's Prime Minister (and current President of the European Council) came to the European Parliament and did just that. For the record, Slovenia should be remembered for the following:

(1) bringing the Western Balkans closer to Europe and ensuring their future lies within the EU. Slovenia's experience and expertise in the Western Balkans ensured the EU played a key role in providing unity and stability to Kosovo following its declaration of independence in February. And this despite the various delays and difficulties surrounding the establishment in Kosovo of the EU’s new law and order mission (EULEX). In addition, pre-accession agreements were signed with Bosnia and Serbia putting them firmly on the path for eventual EU membership.

(2) On the energy and climate change package, Slovenia reached a compromise on the proposals for opening up Europe's gas and electricity markets to competition, something which many of us in the Parliament thought would end up being kicked into the French Presidency with no agreement possible.

(3) Also resolved under the Slovenian Presidency was a 4 year dispute over the 48 hour maximum working week, which saw the UK government retain its opt-out from the Working Time Directive, and an agreement for temporary workers to have the same rights as permanent employees

Other achievements included agreeing a mandate for the Commission to negotiate a long-term partnership agreement with Russia, enlarging the eurozone to Cyprus and Malta, and overseeing the entry of Slovakia to the eurozone on 1 January 2009.

It is worth reflecting that back in 2006 in a piece for
the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash wrote that Europe's future was increasingly becoming one of ‘small’ countries that no longer could be made to work by a directorate of the 3 largest states, Germany, France and the UK. Memorably he stated that what a large Europe needed was for the small countries to think big. I think over the past 6 months that Slovenia with a population of 2 million has done just that. I'm sure when it comes the turn of an independent Scotland to assume its turn in the Presidency hot seat it too will approach that task with a high degree of confidence and eager anticipation.

No comments: